TWAIN after Shania It is Sunday evening You’ve been out Who with Whose hood did you pop Whose coozie sleeved your Bud while rigs whistled down I-10 unheard Whose truck has your lawn been under Whose screen door have you sprained Whose fingers tangled your fringe From whose lacy things have you come un stained Whose braids have you un done while I was asleep out in the bed Whose field have your boots been under Whose longhorn has your rodeo circuitry or prize belt your buckle cinctured Whose boots burnt skinsnake garters moongut skyhigh mindshaft For all the barbs in a wire mile Who’s been tanned by the same sun that done tanned you TETRALEMMAS Alice Cooper or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman A fictional frontier heroine or Vincent Furnier Not Alice Cooper not a fictional frontier heroine Anise-flavored or Coney Island a peninsula once overrun by rabbits and licorice not anise-flavored not a peninsula once overrun by rabbits knocked up or “lawyer” in French not avocado not a bun in the oven knocked up and avocado Chicken menstruation and the The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger or a raw egg not The Governator not chicken menstruation Samuel Clemens or Lewis Carroll Not Charles Dodgson not Mark Twain Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll An atoll in the Micronesian Islands or Sandwich Captain Cook’s name for Hawaii and Bikini not Bikini not Sandwich OK Cupid and she’s over it internet speed dating or she doesn’t call She’s not over it not OK Cupid THE GOLD-MINING WITCH OF PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA James Marshall first witnessed, among the Maidu, arrowheads dipped in sap and then in flakes of something yellow: a gift to whatever animal the weapon aimed to pierce, more valuable to them than a soft but pretty metal. He also stole a gold ring from the nose of the Maidu chief’s eldest daughter. I envy that savage maiden, even as my hair grows hanging lichen and the lichen grows moss and the moss dries to a golden color. I sleep in a hollow log, and honor its shelter as if it were my parents. My manners are too primitive for the nearby boomtown. It favors talcum-powder girls who wait genteelly. I found in riparian thickets a more suitable General Store: Muskrat, crayfish, miner’s lettuce. I’d quarry a stagnant pond, I’d drink up the last oxbow lake north of the Fork if I could find the map that keeps it hidden. Yesterday I invaded someone’s claim, hell-bent on stealing what rusty equipment I found; it seemed the best thing to do a stranger, minding her business, thinking only of herself. She was nowhere to be found in a town called Nowhere. The nugget under her pillow was banded with quartz and looked like a rich man’s tooth. I left it where I found it, and carried off her copper kettle. She’d placed twelve chunks of pyrite in a circle around her fire-pit, perhaps hoping the heat would alter its element. I too have tested the technicalities of Fool’s Gold. I’ve panned for platinum, for pearl, for the ore in Oregon: why worry about one of a thousand desperate prospectors returning to her lopsided tent, made of the same sturdy fabric that Levi Strauss will soon stitch into the first pair of jeans? My own canvas trousers double as a stovepipe. I can make a garment from a used utensil, a gravel-screen from a French lace drape. As I walk away, I press a set of tracks with severed bear-paws. Why did I trust that fur trapper from Vancouver? Murderous Salteau women were all he knew of love. He claimed they were much wilder than me; one, he said, sang as though “her bones were coming out of her face.” "Oh My Darling Inclementine" is a lesser-known version of a song most miners know. It reminds me of a whore I stole a gold coin from. I threw it to the river, making amends. Were it up to her, I’d drown, face-down in a horse trough but I’ll drown another way.
Iris Marble Cushing was born in Tarzana, California. In 2011, she was a writer-in-residence at Grand Canyon National Park. Iris is an editor for Argos Books in Brooklyn, and for Circumference, a journal of poetry in translation.